Gerrit Cole has kicked it into another gear.
Pittsburgh rode a pair of solo home runs to a 2-1 victory over Chicago Monday and clinched its first postseason berth since 1992.
"The people of Pittsburgh have been waiting a long time," second baseman Neil Walker said.
Walker put the Pirates (90-67) on top with a first-inning homer, his fourth in five games, and after the Cubs (65-92) tied it in the bottom of the eighth, Starling Marte provided the go-ahead run with his shot.
Closer Jason Grilli, with a .357 average against since his return from a strained right forearm, struggled, allowing a walk and a single, but Nate Schierholtz was thrown out trying to score from first on Ryan Sweeney's single.
"Even though I didn't lose for the last 20 years, they make you feel like you are," said Andrew McCutchen, whose throw from center led to Schierholtz getting nailed at the plate. "You get sick and tired of hearing that. It's awesome that there won't be any questions anymore. The question is are we going to be able to go farther."
Cincinnati also won in dramatic fashion, walking off against the Mets in 10 innings to remain in a tie with Pittsburgh.
The Reds and Pirates are both two games behind Central-leading St. Louis.
Cole (9-7, 3.23 ERA) has been a solid addition to Pittsburgh's rotation since his major league debut in June, but he's been particularly good lately. He's won each of his last three starts, allowing two runs in 20 innings with 28 strikeouts.
"He continues to grow right in front of our eyes," manager Clint Hurdle said.
The right-hander gave up a run and four hits, striking out a career-high 12 in a 10-1 victory over San Diego on Thursday.
"We just couldn't get to the fastball," San Diego manager Bud Black said. "I think we knew it was coming but he located some pitches, threw down and away well. He pitched in. He pitched up (and) mixed it up a little bit with the slider and the changeup."
Cole, who will face the Cubs for the second time in 11 days Tuesday, pitched seven one-run innings against them in a 2-1 victory Sept. 14.
Chicago's Chris Rusin (2-5, 3.52) was faring similarly well in his rookie season, as he allowed two earned runs or fewer in seven straight starts before Milwaukee roughed him up for six runs in four innings of a 7-0 loss Wednesday.
Rusin, who had yielded three home runs in his prior 58 innings, surrendered two Wednesday, including Sean Halton's first-inning grand slam.
"When I needed to make a pitch, I left it up and they hit it out of the yard,'' Rusin said. "Those are the games you've just got to learn from. Just keep the ball down is what I keep telling myself. But that first inning really hurt the team. Just took the life out of us.''
The Cubs have scored 29 runs and batted .216 while losing 10 of 13.
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